Phoenix Theatre’s commitment to finding the very best in theater is nowhere more evident than in its annual New Works Festival. The 13th Annual Phoenix Theatre Hormel New Works Festival begins today, July 9 and will run through August 1. The Festival was founded by playwright Richard Warren and director Mark DeMichele in 1998 to introduce Phoenix audiences to the new works of emerging and established playwrights. It is a stimulating and innovative procedure where playwright, director, actor and audience share insight and input to further nurture and develop the creative process. A number of Festival work-shopped plays have made it to the Phoenix Theatre Main Stage in full productions, among them All the More to Love, Lucky Star and The Quiltmaker’s Gift.
The Examiner recently talked with Robert Kolby Harper, Associate Artistic Director for Phoenix Theatre and the Artistic Director for the Cookie Company. Mr. Harper is a graduate of Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts. He has directed choreographed and performed in numerous shows. As an educator, he has been the Department Head of Theatre and instructor for Arizona School for the Arts for the past six years as well as a Faculty Associate for ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, School of Music.
Robert Kolby Harper
What is the Phoenix Theatre’s New Works Festival?
Like its title suggest, it is basically a festival of new plays. There is a submission and selection process. We receive submissions from all around the country. There is then a series of readings through the ASU/MSA playwrights’ class and Phoenix Theatre. Through this process we select four plays to explore and perform. The plays are then given three staged performances with audience feedback at the end.
When a play reaches a certain point in its development, a playwright needs to see it “up” to move forward. Without these kind of New Works Festivals around the country, new plays would not get developed. For a new playwright it’s very difficult to get your work produced. It is a patient process.
Once you get a play “up,” it begins to have its own voice. You can tell when a play reaches that point. The characters and the play start speaking for themselves. It’s really exciting to see a play get to that point. The staged reading is with script in hand and a suggested environment for the audience to envision. Sometimes you have a play that you have been working on for years and with a staged reading you suddenly realize the work is not about what you thought but about something completely different.
Jenny Hintze & Harper in the Main Stage production of All the More to Love
What can we expect to see at this year’s festival?
There are some really great and diverse plays. We have five this year which is one more than we normally do. The additional play is called Burning in the Night, the last piece that Dale Wasserman worked on before he passed. It’s basically a one man musical and it’s being adapted, with permission, by Richard Warren. We are also bringing back the 24 Hour Theatre Project which was a huge hit last year with our audience. It will conclude this year’s Festival on August 1.
The 24 Hour Theatre Project consists of a group of playwrights and directors, say six each. Then you get twenty actors. The actors show up in a costume, whatever they want to dress as, and with a specific prop. At the last scheduled reading, this year’s Burning in the Night, the playwrights pick out of a hat how many voices they’ll be writing for, three, four, five. Then they pick their director out of a hat. The director then picks the names for the corresponding number of actors the playwright chose out of a hat. Each author gets pictures of the actors with his or her costume and prop and has to write a script incorporating these by 6 AM. It is usually about a 10-15 minute play. The cast goes into rehearsal with the director at 7 AM. At 3 PM they go into tech with the goal of performing the series of short plays starting at 7 PM in front of an audience.
It all sounds like a magical hat trick, and why not? The theater is all about magic.
Cast of last Season’s Spelling Bee directed by Harper
Here is the complete list of Festival staged readings and events:
A Great War, by James Christy, directed by Pasha Yamotahari, tonight, Friday, July 9 at 7:30 PM; Saturday, July 10 at 3 PM and 7:30 PM.
Living in the Spaces, by Rod Hayward, directed by Daniel Schay, Friday, July 16 at 7:30 PM; Saturday, July 17 at 3 PM and 7:30 PM.
Divine Fruit/Kundalini Rising, by Nathan Sanders, directed by William Partlan, Friday, July 23 at 7:30 PM; Saturday, July 24 at 3 PM and 7:30 PM.
Robot Songs, by Scott McCarrey, directed by Robert Kolby Harper, Friday, July 30 at 7:30 PM; Saturday, July 31 at 3 PM and 7:30 PM.
Burning in the Night, by Dale Wasserman, adapted by Richard Warren, directed by Daniel Schay, Sunday, July 11 at 3 PM and 7:30 PM; Sun., July 25 at 3 pm and 7:30 PM.
After every reading, an audience discussion and interactive question and answer period will be held between the playwright, director and the audience.
Informal Readings the 2nd Draft Series :
The Pornographer (2nd Read) by Kirt Shineman, Saturday July 24 at 11:00 AM.
Dinner on the Inside by Christian Krauspe, Saturday July 31 at 11:00 AM.
Mr. Harper has so much more to say about Phoenix Theatre and it’s commitment to education and the community that it will be published as a separate column in the next few days.
Graphic artwork and all production photographs by Laura Durant courtesy of Phoenix Theatre.
For more information about ticket availability, prices and schedule for The 13th Annual Phoenix Theatre Hormel New Works Festival, please contact Phoenix Theatre directly either by phone at (602) 254 2151 or ON LINE.
Phoenix Theatre 100 East McDowell Road Phoenix 85004